We’re 4 weeks into this column and I finally feel like I’m starting to fall into a bit of a rhythm. Much like the Packers offense looked like this past week. I’m getting to the top of my drop and letting loose with a beautiful bullet pass to a receiver just coming out of his break.
Or maybe I’m just slightly missing him a bit. My timing isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. I’ll get there.
Enough of this yammering. Let’s look at some things the Packers passing offense did in their Week 4 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
What I Didn’t Like
Do you know what we don’t like around these parts? Isolation routes. That’s where a play’s success completely hinges on whether the receiver can beat the man in front of him. No schemes. No games. Just straight-up, beat the other guy.
It works here because Davante Adams  is man-to-man on the outside, running a curl route. The timing is great – Aaron Rodgers  hits his back foot as Adams is getting ready to make his break – and Adams is able to create space by having tremendous feet.
It’s 1st & 10, they got the match-up they wanted and Rodgers got the ball out on-time and everything worked out.
But what if it didn’t? You can see Rodgers looking over the field as he’s dropping back, going right-to-left. Based on the inside position of the defender on the right, that curl is out. Jimmy Graham  is bracketed up the field, so that’s out. Adams is the last option here. Let’s say Adams gets a little mugged at the line, or the defender got a good read and is on Adams’ hip out of the break. The only option left is the checkdown to Jamaal Williams  out of the backfield. Given the routes, there’s nothing to make sure that checkdown is even open. A linebacker is already shadowing him. Best case scenario, Williams picks up 3-5 yards. Worst case scenario is that the linebacker is playing closer to Williams and the checkdown isn’t an option.
Now the pocket is breaking down. Where to go? What to do? Maybe Rodgers is able to break out and hit a big play or throw it away, but maybe he can’t. Maybe he holds onto the ball and gets sacked.
That’s one of the downsides to isolation concepts: if your men don’t win their individual battles, you don’t have any other options.
3rd & 1, a little over 8 minutes left in the game, Packers are up 19-0. This game was pretty much over, but converting a 1st down here would be really nice.
The Packers come out in a tight look and go play action. I like both of those things. However, those are about the only things I like about this play. I don’t love the routes or the way the personnel is used. Jimmy Graham  runs a deep corner off the end of the line. (Okay, I like that part as well.) Then they send Lance Kendricks  running out of the backfield into the flat underneath.
That’s it! That’s the full extent of this play. With the rollout, you can effectively dismiss anything coming from the left side, because they don’t have enough time to develop in front of Rodgers. So you basically have Graham creating space for Kendricks on the flat, except it doesn’t actually clear any space because Kendricks is in the backfield and is easily picked up. The play ends up working due to a late cut by Kendricks and Rodgers having juuuuust enough time to get rid of the ball, but it’s not pretty.
What could be done to help this? I’m glad you asked.
For my version, I went with a Full House backfield look, because this is my column and I do what I want. We’ve still got Graham on the corner route. I’ve got Kendricks starting in the backfield, but I have him running an out 5-7 yards under the corner route from Graham. That sets up levels and carries a linebacker deep to help create space underneath. Now here’s my key: have a wide receiver off the left side of the line and run him under the line to release in the flat. If you’re facing man coverage – which they are on this play – it forces the defender to run across the formation, but they’ll have to take a wide route to steer clear of all the defenders in the middle of the field, which will provide separation.
It also gets the underneath crosser building up speed before emerging. If another defender from the middle picks him up, the crosser will have a decent angle to beat him.
This gives you a nice option for at least a yard on the flat route, but if that route isn’t open, there are two other receivers in your line of sign.
If you want to get really fancy, take one of the running backs in the backfield to stay back, block, and leak out late as a throwback option on the flat follow.
This isn’t something outlandish. It’s not even far from what they ended up running. All it does is slightly switch up the formation and gives a couple better chances to free a man for the necessary yard.
Oh, and check out the pass protection from Aaron Jones  here:
Jamaal Williams is a special player in pass protection, but Aaron Jones is no slouch.
What I Did Like
Ty Montgomery  starts this play lined up wide against a linebacker. He motions in before the snap, and we know what we’re working with: man-to-man coverage and Montgomery matched-up on a linebacker.
At the snap, we have a perfectly executed slant/wheel, with Davante Adams  on the slant and Montgomery on the wheel. Montgomery’s defender bumps into Adams on the slant, which springs Montgomery down the field. With Jimmy Graham  running a post off the right side of the line, the single-high safety is held in place, opening a large window for Adams.
Here’s something to look at from a defensive perspective: Montgomery is man-to-man, but the outside defenders are in zone coverage (you can see them declare just before the snap). TreDavious White  briefly drops on Montgomery, but sprints toward the line once Aaron Rodgers  begins to break the pocket. White is never really running with Montgomery, so I believe this throw would have been open regardless, but the window would have been smaller. Rodgers being a threat to run opened a huge hole and the Packers took advantage.
I was raving about the Packers’ use of tight formations in the preseason, and they have been trotting them out fairly regularly so far this season. On the right side of the line we have Geronimo Allison  and Lance Kendricks . At the snap, they both push up the field and split in opposing directions at the same time. With the wide cornerback playing 7 yards off the line and backpedaling at the snap, this puts the linebacker in the middle in a bit of a pickle. Allison and Kendricks fire directly at the linebacker and split once they’re even: Allison cuts out, Kendricks cuts in. Given where the linebacker lines up, there’s no way he’s able to fall under the route of Allison unless he immediately bails. He doesn’t, so Rodgers knows exactly where this pass needs to go.
It’s nothing special or flashy, but it’s a quick throw that picks up a quick-and-easy 9 yards on 1st down.
Last week we talked about the Texas concept – a West Coast offense staple – and variations on that concept. Well, we’ve got another one. As a reminder, “Texas” has a tight end running a clear-out route off the end of the line and have someone from the backfield running an angle route underneath. The Packers have been running the Texas look this year out of a stacked look off the end of the line. The front man (Jimmy Graham  in pretty much every case) runs up the field and the back man (Davante Adams  here, but Randall Cobb has been running it over the first few weeks), runs underneath.
Last week the Packers ran something like this with Graham and Cobb, and Cobb cut out instead of in. This week, Adams fakes an out and cuts back in on the angle route. It’s a beautiful route. With go routes on the other side, Adams has a ton of room to run after the catch. When all was said and done, Adams picked up 25 yards on 3rd & 4. I am absolutely loving how this has been run this year.
3rd & 10. On the right side of the line, you’ll see two receivers running slightly staggered post routes. I like the idea here: use the receiver in front to clear room and create a lane for the receiver behind him to make the catch and have a chance at picking up the first down. It doesn’t work here, but I like the idea.
I’d like the idea a little more with one small tweak: take the tight end off the line on that side of the formation and run him on a go, post or crossing route ahead of the first receiver. That would help open things up even more in the middle. If he pushes up the field, it forces a deeper drop by a defender. If he runs a crossing route, it stretches the middle of the defense horizontally, forcing a wider drop away from the receiver. Either of those would serve the intended effect: to spread out the middle and allow for a bigger lane for the receiver to run through after catching the ball.
As it currently stands, you have two receivers running the same route to the same zone of the field, so the middle of the defense is flowing to that spot. It just looks a little tight. Throw in a tight end route and you’ve got a bit more room to breathe.
That’ll do it for this week! As always, thanks for following along. I have more plays I didn’t get to here, so you can head over to my Twitter account in the next couple of days to find that thread.
Albums listened to: Big Boi – Boomiverse; mewithoutYou – [untitled]; DeVotchKa – This Night Falls Forever; Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes; All Them Witches – ATW